There Are No Good People
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
A Hard Saying
This Christian doctrine is hard to swallow for many (including some Christians) because they are harboring a faulty assumption. To explain what I mean, I need to make a detour and go over what it means to make a deductive argument.
A deductive argument is one that begins with one or more premises, then uses them to draw a conclusion. One famous deductive argument goes like this:
PREMISE I. All men are mortal.
PREMISE II. Socrates is a man.
CONCLUSION. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
This argument is deductively valid; that is, the conclusion is logically inevitable if the premises are true. In other words, the conclusion follows logically from the premises.
Besides being valid, this argument is also sound. A deductive argument is sound if it is valid and all its premises are actually true.
Of course, a deductive argument can be invalid; that is, its conclusion does not follow logically from its premises. Here's an example:
PREMISE I. Dogs walk on all fours.
PREMISE II. Tigers walk on all fours.
CONCLUSION. Therefore, tigers are dogs.
Both these premises are true, but the conclusion does not logically follow. Therefore, this argument is invalid.
It's also possible for a deductive argument to be valid but unsound; that is, its conclusion follows logically from its premises, but one or more of the premises themselves are untrue. Here's an example.
PREMISE I. All birds can fly.
PREMISE II. Penguins are birds.
CONCLUSION. Therefore, penguins can fly.
This argument is valid; if both premises were true, the conclusion would be inescapable. The problem is, Premise I is untrue. There are birds that can't fly: for instance, penguins. Therefore, this argument is unsound.
Only Two Ways Out
Therefore, as you've now seen, there are only two ways to disprove a deductive argument:
- Show that the conclusion does not logically follow from the premises (invalid argument).
- Show that one or more of the premises themselves are false (unsound argument).
The Problem of Evil
Now let's investigate another famous deductive argument. It takes many subtle forms, but this is a general representation:
PREMISE I. If God were all-powerful, he would be able to prevent evil.
PREMISE II. Bad things happen to good people.
CONCLUSION A. God is not all-powerful.
CONCLUSION B. Therefore, God does not exist.
Now, recall that there are only two ways to disprove a deductive argument such as this. You can directly attack the premises, or you can show that the conclusions don't logically result from the premises. Let's investigate the premises first.
The truth of the first premise is obvious; who would doubt that an omnipotent God could do whatever he pleased? (It says nothing about whether God would want to prevent evil. Other versions of the argument address this point specifically, but, as I'll soon show, this is irrelevant.) You're also unlikely to find many opponents to the second premise; who can look at our world and fail to see that bad things happen to good people?
Taking these things into consideration, this argument appears to be deductively valid. But is it sound?
Look again at the second premise and you'll see that it relies on at least one other premise, unspoken but implied: that there exist both good and bad people. From a Christian perspective, this is false: there are no good people! (See Romans 3:10-12 as quoted above.) No matter how well-crafted this argument, it cannot possibly be deductively sound, because Premise II is false. Bad things don't happen to good people, because there are no good people. Therefore, the whole "Problem of Evil" is a contradiction in appearance only.
What does this mean? Well, for starters, almost every criticism that begins with "How could a loving God ...?" is guaranteed to be unsound because it begins from a false premise. The apparent injustice of (for instance) divine punishment of sins stems from the perception that some people are "good" and don't deserve such things. The biblical, Christian viewpoint is that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
I would argue that no one really and truly believes this. Sure, many Christians hold it to be true intellectually (as I do). However, there's something in our nature that refuses to believe it about ourselves. Only in our most honest moments do we even come close to apprehending this horrible truth. We are truly, all of us, depraved and unworthy of God.
Mercy and Grace
But praise God that the story doesn't end there! "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!" (Romans 5:8). Thanks to God's mercy (not giving us what we deserve, e.g. hell) and grace (giving us what we don't deserve, e.g. eternal life), we have the opportunity to enter a right relationship with God by putting on the righteousness of another - Jesus Christ himself! Far from being an argument against God, the so-called "Problem of Evil" is the gateway to understanding the most welcome truth in history:
Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
As it is written,
For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
"The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23). You can attain this eternal life yourself:
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Who has ears to hear, let him hear!